Every singer hopes to find the perfect song, the one with a melody you can't get out of your head, lyrics that make you laugh or cry, or just a catchy beat that sets your toes to tapping. When a great song meets the right singer, the results can be extraordinary. Each of the singers featured here has been blessed with such a song. For some, the tune made them famous; for others, it blasted an already-thriving career into the stratosphere. Here are 10 unforgettable country songs and the people who brought them into our hearts.
David Frizzell and Shelly West
After David Frizzell formed a duo with his sister-in-law, Shelly West, the two found themselves turned down by every record label in Nashville, Tenn.--that is, until actor Clint Eastwood heard their song “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma” and decided to include it in his 1981 movie Any Which Way You Can. It quickly became the first of six Top 10 hits they’d enjoy together. West, 49, the daughter of late country superstar Dottie West, since has left the music business, but David, 66, the younger brother of the late Lefty Frizzell, continues to record and perform. Last year, he embarked on his Silver Anniversary Tour, celebrating his quarter century of success in country music.
Lee Greenwood began performing for American troops on overseas USO tours when he was a teenager. “Wherever I went, I’d heard people say, ‘I’m proud to be from France,’ or, ‘I’m proud to be from Italy,’” recalls Greenwood, 65. “It had been a long time since I’d heard somebody say, ‘I’m proud to be an American.’” So Greenwood said it in song by writing “God Bless the USA.” It was a Top 10 hit in 1984, and its stature has only grown in the decades since. “This song will live after my life is over,” Greenwood says.
To find just the right song for Johnny Lee to sing in the 1980 movie Urban Cowboy, a Paramount Pictures executive took the singer to a hotel room filled with boxes of tapes from hopeful songwriters. "I think the good Lord blessed me, because within the first 10 or 20, I pulled out this song called 'Lookin' for Love,'" recalls Lee, who now lives in Branson, Mo., with his teenage son. At 61, Lee continues making new music and performing often--and he still enjoys singing "Lookin' for Love." "Lots of people wish they had something like that," he says. "I do, and I'm proud of it."
Mel McDaniel figures the enduring appeal of his 1984 smash "Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On" is pretty simple. "Just about everybody wears blue jeans of some kind, and everybody loves those girls in 'em," he quips. McDaniel, who splits his time between homes in Nashville, Tenn., and Weber Falls, Okla., loves the song so much he included a new version on his latest album, Reloaded. "It's incredible, what this song has done for me," says McDaniel, 65. "A lot of things you don't have any control over. You just hope and pray that you're going to stumble in the right direction and happen onto something."
John Anderson and co-writer Lionel Delmore knew they had something when they got the idea for the lighthearted courtship ode “Swingin,’” but they weren’t satisfied with the finished song. Even at the recording session, John tweaked the tune between takes. In fact, he wasn’t certain the song was good until he heard the finished product. “Swingin’” topped the chart in 1983, sold more than a million copies and won the Country Music Association’s Single of the Year award. John’s career remains in full “swing” today. The 53-year-old Florida native’s recent Easy Money album hit the Top 40.
The odds were stacked against 1977’s “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away” becoming a hit. The father-daughter duo of Royce and Jeannie Kendall recorded it quickly, then released it as the B-side of another 45-rpm single. But DJs started flipping the record over, and before long the Kendalls had a certified smash. The song went on to hit No. 1 and win Single of the Year honors from the Country Music Association. “Maybe we had a little angel on our shoulder,” says Jeannie Kendall, 53, whose father died of a heart attack in 1998. “It seems like no one has tired of the song, to this day.”
Bobby Goldsboro first heard the heartbreaking ballad "Honey" in 1968 when its writer, Bobby Russell, played him a version recorded by another singer. A week later, Goldsboro asked Russell to find him something like "Honey," but instead wound up simply recording the song himself. The result sold a million copies during its first three weeks in stores. In recent years, Goldsboro has shifted into television as the creator of the children's series The Swamp Critters of Lost Lagoon. But the Florida native, 67, now devotes much of his time to art; he's a successful painter whose oil landscapes have been shown across the nation.
Janie Fricke recalls being thrilled to learn that her 1983 chart-topper “He’s a Heartache (Looking for a Place to Happen)” was a particularly big hit with truck drivers. “I can just see them driving down the highway, turning up ‘He’s a Heartache,’” she says with a chuckle. “It’s got a great beat to it, so I’m sure that helps them drive.” Fricke has lived in Lancaster, Texas, for more than 25 years. She doesn’t perform often, but when she does, “He’s a Heartache” is always a highlight. “It really gets ’em going,” says Fricke, 60, who’s working on a new album. “They get really revved up.”
Lynn Anderson first heard “Rose Garden” as a rendition by the man who wrote it, Joe South. She knew the song would work for her, but she had a hard time convincing anyone else. She hounded then-husband and producer Glenn Sutton by playing the song endlessly at home and at the office until he finally agreed to help her record it. The result was a five-week No. 1 blockbuster in 1970. The longtime resident of Taos, N.M., 60, continues to record. She earned a Grammy nomination for 2004’s The Bluegrass Sessions, and last year teamed with her mother, songwriter-publisher Liz Anderson, for an album titled Cowgirl.
T. Graham Brown
T. Graham Brown and songwriter Alex Harvey came up with "Hell and High Water" during a writing session at Harvey's home in Nashville, Tenn. Both men were moved to tears as they created the musical pledge of devotion, but neither knew just how special the song was until they played it for Harvey's wife and she burst out crying. Georgia native Brown (whose "T" initial stands for Tony, short for his first name of Anthony) quickly saw the 1986 song become his first No. 1 hit. Now 53, Brown still is in demand. His latest album, The Present, features versions of uplifting pop and rock classics.
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